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Why the UK Coal Peak wasn't as bad as expected

peak coal peak oil energy UK United Kingdom British Empire

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Jevons' coal question: Why the UK Coal Peak wasn't as bad as expected

In his book The Coal Question from 1865, William Stanley Jevons examined for how long the United Kingdom could continue to fuel its economy based on cheap supplies of coal. At the time the UK consumed about 93 million tons of coal, providing nearly all of its energy supply. His estimate was that within a maximum of a hundred years, or perhaps even within one or two generations, production would be in retreat due to an increase in the cost of mining which would, in Jevons' words, "Injure the commercial and manufacturing supremacy of England."

In this post I’ll look back at history to show that Jevons correctly foresaw the fate of the British coal industry. In Britain a peak in production occurred around 1913 caused by increasing coal mining costs, lack of technological innovation, rising competition from abroad, a number of political decisions disadvantaging coal as a fuel source, declining profits, and a slump in British economic growth coinciding with World War I. Although geology had an important role to play in determining the cost of coal, it was not the overarching factor that led to the decline in British coal production. Fortunately for Britain, Jevons was too pessimistic about the economic consequences. He did not foresee both the adaptation of the British economy in reaching higher overall efficiency in a high energy price environment, and the eventual large scale introduction of petroleum.

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I wonder whats happened to all those old coal mines.

We make our world significant by the courage of our questions and the depth of our answers. - Carl Sagan

Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: peak coal, peak oil, energy, UK, United Kingdom, British Empire

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